How to build a high performing team

Define team values to build trust, which is the foundation for success.

How to define team values together with your team
Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Team values in a nutshell

Team values give your team guidance on how to work together. Aspects could cover how to deal with failure, how to approach challenges or — as a simple example — punctuality. The team values are also very helpful for recruiting new team members as they give you and the recruiter a good understanding of what qualities to look out for in candidates.

Team values are therefore a big step forward to your goal of building a high performing team. Once defined, it’s important to actually live the values and iterate on them if necessary.

You will get concrete examples of values that me and my teams used in the past 6 years and learn a detailed approach how to define them.

High performing teams are built on trust

Building a high performing team is the ultimate and very rewarding goal of every manager. Defining team values is an easy yet powerful tool to ensure the team is aligned. They also help you in the hiring process and ensure psychological safety within the team.

Please note: Team values are sometimes called “team rules”. But in my experience, the term “team rules” sounds too strict and has a negative connotation to it, so I call them team values.

Define team values together with your team

Team values define how the team works together and what’s important for the team.

But rather than just coming up with a list of values that you as a manager find important and telling the team to follow these, I believe it’s important to define these values together with the team.

This way, you will get the buy-in of the whole team and you and the team will get more context on why a certain value is important.

6 step approach to define team values

This is my approach to come up with team values with my team

  • Timing: Set a 80 minute session with the team (I generally set 25, 55 or 80 minute meetings to give everyone some time to breathe, grab a glass of water and focus on the next meeting. This is especially helpful when you have lots of back to back meetings).
  • Brainstorming: Each individual member gets 5–10 minutes to write down what values she/he wants in the team. Use a whiteboard / miro board for that. If it is difficult for the team to come up with values, it sometimes helps them to come up with rules instead.
  • Presentation: Everyone then presents their own values from the board. If everybody agrees: Gratulation! You just defined your first team value. Important: This is not a majority vote. Everybody has to agree on the rule. Even if 6 team members are in favour of a rule and one person isn’t, this rule is not defined yet. Undefined rules get placed on a separate area on the board (I call it the “parking lot”) in order to talk later about that rule.
  • Modification: It’s very likely that team members will come up with new values during the process. This is totally fine. Just add them to the board and talk about them.
  • Result: In the end you should have a list of not more than 10 rules. If you have more rules (which is very likely), try to cluster them together or define what added value this additional rule would bring. Why 10? Well, this is not a magic number. But the likelihood that your values will in fact be used (and are not just written down somewhere) is much higher the lower the total number of values is.
  • Fine tuning: Define someone from the team who fine-tunes the wording of the values and to share the outcome. Everyone should then asynchronously go over the rules and check if they agree with everything written down. Use your next team meeting to quickly go over the list, clarify any open questions and get the buy-in from everyone for these values.

This is how to use team values

Congratulations! You now have the team values in place.

It is now important to agree with the team on how to use the team rules. Does everybody feel comfortable sharing these rules openly?
If yes…

  • put them in confluence/notion in your team space so that they are always visible. Print them out and put them in your office space.
  • tell other teams about them, announce them on slack.
  • And use the rules when introducing your team within the company. The rules will give others a good idea on how your team ticks.

It is important to actually use the team values. Hold each other accountable for the values: Point to the values when you see behaviour within the team that does not conform with the values.

I also use the team values for hiring. If you e.g. work with a recruiter, make sure to share the values with the recruiter and talk them through. These values will give the recruiter some great additional ideas about what type of person you are looking for in your team and will therefore increase the likelihood of finding great talent for your team.

Team values: Examples

I want to share with you some examples for team values. This is how team values could look like. These are real examples I have used in the past:

  • We have trust to speak out
  • We drive our topics
  • We act & help proactively
  • We have each other’s back
  • We value feedback as a way to grow
  • We are failure friendly

We typically add more text to the values in order to explain what each value means for us, so that we are all aligned on the values.

If you come up with different values: No problem. The most important parts is that you and your team come up with values that are important for all of you, and that these values are not implemented top-down. And that you actually live them.

Adjusting team values

You probably regularly reflect on the team’s performance, on the achievements etc together with your team. I would also add reflecting on the team values to this after 3–6 months. Are the values still valid? Does everybody still feel comfortable with them? Is there anything to add or to delete? Run through the values, gather the feedback from the team and change the values accordingly.

Kilian Hughes is a manager and leadership coach in the field of UX, building up and leading teams since 2016.

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UX research & strategy leadership | Coach | Speaker | 16 years UXR experience | 6 years leadership | Psychologist | https://www.linkedin.com/in/kilian-hughes/

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Kilian Hughes

UX research & strategy leadership | Coach | Speaker | 16 years UXR experience | 6 years leadership | Psychologist | https://www.linkedin.com/in/kilian-hughes/